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Russian Air Force ready to send helicopters to Chad - commander

Russia's Air Force is ready to send a helicopter group with more than 100 servicemen to Chad, the Air Force commander said Thursday.
MONINO (Moscow Region), October 23 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's Air Force is ready to send a helicopter group with more than 100 servicemen to Chad, the Air Force commander said Thursday.

"Agreements on normative and legal documents have been reached," Col.-Gen. Alexander Zelin told journalists, adding that a deployment date for the group was being coordinated with the European Union, which performs peacekeeping functions in the African country.

Zelin said the Russian helicopter group would contain four Mi-8 transport helicopters. "Naturally, the helicopters will operate in Chad without weapons," he said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree in early September on sending a Russian military contingent to Chad and the neighboring Central African Republic in support of a UN mission in the region.

The Russian peacekeeping contingent, totaling up to 200 servicemen and the four Mi-8MT helicopters, will be deployed in the conflict zone for up to a year.

Clashes between Chadian rebels, allegedly supported and armed by Sudan, and government troops have been devastating the region since 2003 when a loose coalition of three opposition groups attempted for the first time to oust President Idriss Deby. The groups' leaders accuse Deby, who seized power in 1990, of embezzling millions of dollars in oil revenue.

The foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states approved in April a plan to send a peacekeeping mission to Chad and the Central African Republic. The EUFOR contingent, comprising 3,700 servicemen from 14 EU countries, began a yearlong UN mandate in March to help facilitate humanitarian work and protect Sudanese refugees and internally displaced Chadians.

Russia has already deployed a helicopter support group in neighboring Sudan. It currently comprises 120 personnel and four Mi-8 helicopters, reequipped to UN and international standards.

The group provides transport for UN military observers in Sudan, while also transporting and accompanying cargoes. It also carries out rescue operations.

Chad gained independence from France in 1960. Since 2003, Chad and Sudan have accused each other of inciting conflict on their common border, which includes most of the troubled west Sudanese region of Darfur.

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